CDL School: What You Need to Know

CDL School: What You Need to Know

So, your goal is to become a truck driver. The first thing you’ll need to do is learn how to operate those big rigs safely, so you’ll need to find a CDL school. There are several things to keep in mind as you search for CDL education. Be sure to consider these factors:

Finding a Good School?

You want to find a school that will help you pass the Commercial Drivers License (CDL) tests. It is nice to find instructors that you like and a school that is pretty, but the prime reason to go to school is to learn driving skills, pass the test, get your CDL, and get a job.

Every small- to medium-sized city will have two to four driving schools. Find a school that has competent instructors. If you are fortunate enough to have friends who have CDLs, they can advise you which schools have better graduation rates. Visit the schools. Talk with the teachers. Chat with the students. Ask questions. (See our list, below.)

The Equipment

As a rule, tractors and trailers at a driving school will be old. Very old. It isn’t uncommon to find tractors (the trucks) that are 30 years old, and trailers that are even older. More importantly, does the equipment work? Is there a mechanic to keep everything running? Things get busted up. (These trucks are being driven by students.) Cosmetic damage is normal for school equipment, but safety equipment must work. Plastic tape holding the upholstery together isn’t a big deal. Broken mirrors are a big deal. A good school will get things repaired.

Employment Assistance

Will the school help you find a job after you get your CDL? Most driving jobs (the better-paying jobs) require 6 months of experience. Your driving school should help you find work at a company that doesn’t require 6-months of experience (a starter job).


  • Some truck schools get a tiny kick-back from the driving companies after you work there for a while. This is normal.

  • After you get your 6 months of experience, you can then apply for a better job.

Time Considerations

If everything goes according to plan, and you pass all your tests on the first try, this is an estimation of the amount of time you’ll spend on the various parts of the process:

  • Week 1 of school will be classroom and rules, followed by taking the written tests at the DMV.

  • Weeks 2 through 4 will be practicing skills (backing through the obstacle course) and driving on the road/highway.

  • Week 5 will be taking the DMV driving tests.

  • Week 6 is spent catching up (nothing goes quite to plan) and applying for jobs.

  • Weeks 7 and 8 will be pre-hire work with the trucking company.

  • Two months after school starts, you can be a professional driver.


The average cost for CDL training and licensing is about $3,000:

  • Tuition at the school: $2,000 to $2,500
  • Medical exam: $50 to $80
  • Written endorsement tests (DMV): $250 (varies widely from state to state)
  • Driving test (DMV or third party): $50 to $100 (varies widely from state to state)

These are estimates only. Costs vary widely from state to state and from city to city.

Note: Some community colleges have cheap CDL programs. The community college programs run on an odd schedule and seem to have 200 applicants for 20 spots. If you can make their schedule work for you, apply. You might be lucky enough to get one of the spots and save a couple of thousand dollars.

Questions to Ask at the School:

  • How long has this school been here?
  • How long have these people been driving instructors?
  • What is your graduation rate?
  • How many students pass the driving test on the first try?
  • How much does school cost?
  • Does that include the driving test?
  • Does that include the medical exam?
  • Does that include the endorsement tests?
  • How many driving test attempts does that include?
  • Do you have employment assistance?
  • If I return in a couple of years, will you help me find a second job?

Final Thoughts

When looking for a school, don’t discount a “gut feeling.” If the school makes you uncomfortable, pick a different school. There are plenty of schools out there and classes start every week.

Good luck. Work hard. Use your seatbelt.

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